Learning and Teaching in Action: Assessment

Student in language lab


News from the faculties


Humanities, Law and Social Science
MMU Business School
Institute of Education


Humanities Law and Social Science

Criminology and the Higher Education Academy

Criminology does not sit easily within any of the HEA Subject Centres so in October Dr Helen Jones met with four of the more relevant Subject Centres (C-SAP, SWAP, UKCLE and Psychology) in Birmingham together with the Director of the British Society of Criminology to discuss forging closer links between these parties for the benefit of the wider criminology teaching community. Plans laid out include ideas around a co-sponsored annual prize to be awarded at the BSC annual conference and participation in a range of conference/workshop venues over the next year. This national initiative will be ongoing for the next couple of years and interested parties within the university will be kept informed of further developments.

C-SAP and Collaboration with Glasgow Caledonian University

Dr Helen Jones is engaged in collaboration with GCU to utilise wikis as a research medium on teaching and learning. She hosted a meeting for C-SAP and the other National Associates where Neil Ringan from CeLT spoke about the developments within elearning in MMU. This was a valuable illustration of the excellence in teaching within MMU and the level of support given to staff leading on innovation in teaching. C-SAP agreed to support the collaborative initiative and also support plans for workshops on teaching sensitive issues. If this is something you would like to be involved in please speak to Helen directly.

Dr Helen Jones


MMU Business School

On November 6th, around 25 people attended the workshop entitled ‘Assessment and Feedback in mass higher education: challenges and solutions’ delivered by Professor David Nicol. Professor Nicol is Deputy Director of the Centre for Academic Practice and Learning Enhancement at the University of Strathclyde. He is also the Director of the ‘Re-engineering assessment practice (REAP)’ project.

The REAP project was funded by the Scottish Funding Council and involves the University of Glasgow and Glasgow Caledonian University in partnership with Strathclyde, which led the project. REAP is ‘piloting the redesign of formative assessment and feedback practices in large-enrolment first-year modules across these three institutions.’ To date they have re-designed 19 first year modules, involving 6000 students, across a range of disciplines. In doing so, they have used a number of technologies, including online tests, simulations, discussions boards, e-portfolios, e-voting, peer/feedback software etc. The project utilised the 11 principles of good assessment design (Gibbs and Simpson, 2004; Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). These state that:

‘Assessment Design should:

  1. Capture sufficient study time and effort in and out of class.
  2. Distribute students’ efforts evenly across topics and weeks.
  3. Engage students in deep not just shallow leaning activity.
  4. Communicate clear and high expectations to students
    These four are about promoting engagement.


  5. Clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, standards).
  6. Facilitate the development of reflection and self assessment in learning.
  7. Deliver high quality feedback to students: that enables then to self-correct.
  8. Encourage dialogue around learning (peer and tutor-student).
  9. Encourage positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem.
  10. Provide opportunities to act on feedback.
  11. Provide information that teachers can use to shape their teaching’.
    These seven are about empowering the students.

David’s work has shown the importance of balancing engagement and empowerment during the early years of study.

It is well worth having a look at the REAP website which has a wealth of advice on developing good assessment practices.


Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C. (2004) Conditions under which assessment supports students learning Learning and Teaching in Higher Education 1: 3-31

Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education 31: 199-218

Nicol, D.J. (in press) assessment for Learner Self-Regulation: Enhancing achievement in the first year using learning technologies. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.

The workshop was facilitated by Robin Johnson, SLTF in the Business School and formed part of MMUBS contribution to the Challenging Assessment Initiative.


Institute of Education

Post Compulsory Education & Training (PCET)

The Post Compulsory education and training sector is undergoing a period of transformation and sector developments in Initial Teacher Training are key elements of the change agenda. In 2008 the Institute of Education became a member of the Westminster Partnership Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training in Post Compulsory sector (CETT). As CETT members the Post Compulsory team at MMU undertook a funded research study regarding the impact of the new professional standards and qualifications framework (introduced in September 2007) on trainee teachers.

In line with key university themes and institutional strategies, the study reflected the on-going work undertaken by the Programme team in capturing of the ‘student voice’.
The study involved 18 full time, pre-service trainees based at IoE Crewe together with in-service trainees in two of our partner colleges - Mid Cheshire College and Wirral Metropolitan College. Findings from the study are due to be published through the CETT before the end of the year. A summary is provided below.

What impact have the new professional standards, notions of professionalism and the new qualifications framework had on the entrants to the Post Compulsory sector? An initial study.

Rowena Smith & Val Butcher Programme Leaders (PCET) Manchester Metropolitan University June 2008.

Trainee engagement with notions of professionalism, professional standards, dual professionalism, continuing professional development and preparation for work in the sector were examined.

The study formed part of the scheduled end-of-year evaluation process and therefore occupied a naturally contextualised position.

Following an initial, tutor–led introduction regarding administrative procedures, the session was trainee-directed. Trainees responded to open questions and feedback was gathered through the use of audio recorded discussions and small group written responses. The essence of the debate and critical comments arising enabled us to draw conclusions regarding trainee perception. The language used by the trainees and the interaction between them allowed a deeper understanding of their views.

This small study shows that new entrants to the Post Compulsory sector do have some concept of entering a profession. However, their concepts of what that means and their evolving identity as professionals is limited and constrained by their experiences within the sector. The research indicates that currently, the external professional standards as articulated by LLUK, have had a limited impact on their professional development to date. The key findings are noted below.

  • The early formation of ‘teacher identity’ and ‘professional identity’ seems to focus on competence and the nature of the teacher -student role - rather than on any sense of being part of a wider national social and economic agenda. Furthermore there is little discussion of empowerment or notions of judgement and autonomy.
  • Trainees, while grappling with their personal understanding of professionalism, are also seeking to be given the ‘correct answer’ and they have an idea that somehow the programme and the tutors are hiding the ‘secret tricks’ from them! The implication of this, when related to professionalism, is important. This ‘tell me how to do it and I will do it’ mindset provides a very limited or ‘restricted’ view of professionalism. This echoes the findings from other published studies. The debate raises two questions: ‘what sort of teachers do we want?’ and ‘are we preparing different types of teachers via the pre and in-service routes?’ Collectively, the notion of the ‘teacher as a machine’ (Stronach et al 2002) is something to be guarded against, particularly when we consider the demands of working with 14 year olds in colleges - an agenda requiring creative, free-thinking teachers.
  • The early impact of a set of overarching Professional Standards appears to be limited. The general theme that emerged indicates that the Standards have not been internalised but are seen by trainees as an external framework. Trainees with greater experience identify more clearly with these standards as potential measures of accountability. However, for pre service trainees there is a suggestion that such standards have little impact on the working lives of the teachers that they encountered while on placement. This again echoes findings from earlier studies; that the reality of the workplace has to be contextualised within a set of standards to have value; and that professionalism, as encountered on a daily basis, must be recognised.

The national agenda to ‘professionalise’ the workforce to expedite wider social and economic reform sees future teachers as agents of change. Whether this notion of agency is fully realised within the new professional standards and framework for initial teacher training qualifications is yet to be seen.

Maureen Haldane

Collaboration with University West, Sweden

In November 2008, Russell Jones initiated, delivered and received a set of interactive live lectures between MMU and University West in Trollhattan, Sweden, where both sets of students looked at issues of children’s rights, diversity and modern childhood in both countries. This was followed by a live interactive Q&A / debate between both sets of students where aspects of the teaching and learning agenda for the coming year was negotiated and established as a result of this collaboration.

Russell Jones

Autumn 2008
ISSN 1477-1241